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The Concept of Modular Credentials

By James X. Stobinski, PhD, RN, CNOR, CSSM (E)

Recently, during the question and answer period following a presentation, I was asked how the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) is evolving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The context for this question was how licensing and credentialing bodies could assist in the competency development of their stakeholders.

At CCI the largest part of our work, at present, is administering certification programs for perioperative nurses. I have presented and written on this topic of competency assessment for many years beginning with a 2008 article in the AORN Journal.[1] The short answer is that the business of CCI is changing and the pandemic and its sequelae will likely accelerate the pace of that change.

How CCI will change in the near-term future will be guided in part by the development of new concepts such as microcredentials. Microcredentials are described by BloomBoard as competency-based, personalized, self-directed demonstrations of new or existing expertise.[2] Jon Marcus[3] on the Wired website speaks to the concept of stackable credentials. Marcus describes how diverse education providers to include Western Governors University, edX and Brigham Young University-Idaho are all offering programs where a collection of microcredentials can be earned in sequence and then stacked together to eventually result in a degree. CCI, as I have described in previous columns, is now administering microcredentials.

The traditional model of certification has been for decades that a candidate passed a knowledge-based examination to earn a credential and then recertified that credential by documenting continuing education (CE) activities. That model was widely used in many occupations but was firmly rooted in the nursing profession. Professional meetings were built around the need to earn CE to fulfill recertification and renewal of licensure requirements. In this context CE became a commodity of sorts but a necessary part of the licensure and credentialing component of professional nursing.

With the pandemic we can assume that health care facilities will predictably slash education and professional development budgets to meet budget shortfalls. Many of our industry partners will have less money to spend on trade shows and exhibits but the continuing professional development (CPD) needs of perioperative nurses will remain. The need for CPD in the technology intensive, dynamic field of perioperative nursing is clear.[4] CCI believes that microcredentials can fill some of this CPD need in a cost-effective manner. We envision that microcredentials, such as the current CCI offering in strategic management, can fill a variety of purposes. We see microcredentials as modular components in the larger ecosystem of credentialing.

Microcredentials, when considered from a modular perspective, could be used in a variety of ways. The potential for microcredentials lies in first developing a suite of offerings which are meaningful and useful to perioperative nurses. Once that resource is established nurses could earn microcredentials to fulfill eligibility criteria for a certification, to fulfill recertification requirements or simply as documentation of expertise or competency in a defined field. The use of microcredentials, based in adult learning principles allow considerable autonomy for perioperative nurses to chart their own CPD path.

At CCI, we are currently working with several industry and nonprofit partners to develop a suite of microcredentials based upon a consensus of the work of perioperative nurses. I do not foresee that professional meetings and trade shows will end abruptly or that nursing will no longer use CE. However, I do believe that in unsettled times with tight budgets, nurses and other health care professionals will appreciate having flexibility and additional choices to fulfill their CPD needs. The CCI team looks forward to working with perioperative professionals to develop education materials which can meet those needs.

References

1. Stobinski, J. X. (2008) Perioperative nursing competency. AORN Journal (88)3. pp. 417-436.

2. BloomBoard (2019). What are Microcredentials? [webpage}. Accessed June 2, 2020 at: https://bloomboard.com/what-are-microcredentials/

3. Marcus, J. (2020). More Students are “Stacking” Credentials en Route to a Degree. [webpage]. Accessed June 2, 2020 at: https://www.wired.com/story/students-stacking-credentials-route-degree/

4. Stobinski JX. (2020). [guest editorial]. Continuous Professional Development in Perioperative Nursing. AORN J. 111(2):153-156. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/aorn.12944

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